Peace Corps

Fact Box

Peace Corps

Formed on March 21, 1961
Headquarters- Washington, D.C.
Acting Director -- Carrie Hessler-Radelet
Volunteers (2014) -- 6,818
Annual budget (2013) $359.5 million

The Peace Corps is an independent government agency responsible for promoting peace and friendship throughout the world by way of public service. Volunteers are trained in specific needs and sent to developing countries, in particular, to help people meet their needs for trained manpower. Born out of the idealism of the 1960s, the Peace Corps continues to serve as a rite of passage for many college graduates looking to help others overseas. The altruistic nature of the program has been in danger of being compromised by some in government who have tried to link the Peace Corps with military service commitments or intelligence-gathering operations. As it celebrated its 50th anniversary, the agency has come under fire for lax security and insensitive responses to incidents of assault and murder suffered by many of its volunteers.


The Peace Corps began as a challenge by President John F. Kennedy to students at the University of Michigan on October 14, 1960. Calling on them to serve their country, he said that giving two years of their lives to work in developing countries would contribute to the building of a free society at home and abroad. 

The Peace Corps was made into an independent federal agency shortly thereafter.  President Kennedy’s Executive Order 10824 created the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961.  Congress authorized the agency on September 22, 1961, by passing the Peace Corps Act.  The law describes the agency as existing “to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.” R. Sargent Shriver was appointed the agency’s first director. By the end of the year, 5,000 applicants had taken the first exams, and Peace Corps programs started up in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Thailand.

The 1960s saw rapid growth of the Peace Corps. Programs were begun in Afghanistan, Belize, Bolivia, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Gabon, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Liberia, Malawi, Morocco, Nepal, Niger, Panama, Peru, Senegal, Somali Republic, Sri Lanka, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, and Venezuela. In April 1964, the Peace Corps Partnership Project allowed Americans at home to support and contribute to volunteer projects overseas. By the end of the decade, more than 15,000 volunteers were serving in the field.

Budget constraints in the 1970s caused concern about the future of the Peace Corps, but by December 1974, volunteers were serving in 69 countries. Foreign nationals began to join the Peace Corps as administrators in order to meet the basic needs of their own countries, and by 1973, they comprised more than half of the Peace Corps’ international staff. During this decade, volunteers were culled from professional fields such as medicine, engineering, and horticulture, and accounted for more than 20% of all volunteers. The median age of volunteers rose as well, with the average age of a volunteer reaching 27. More than 5% of volunteers were also aged 50 or older. 

In July 1971, the Nixon administration folded the Peace Corps and several other federal volunteer programs into a new federal volunteer agency called ACTION. But in 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order that granted the Peace Corps its autonomy again. By the end of the decade, more than 6,000 volunteers were in the field.  Two returned volunteers were elected to the Senate: Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut. 

The 1980s brought new change to the Peace Corps. In 1981, Congress passed legislation that made the Peace Corps an independent federal agency. In June of that year, the Peace Corps’ 20th anniversary was celebrated in Washington D.C. In 1982, Loret Miller Ruppe, the Peace Corps’ director, launched a program called Competitive Enterprise Development to promote business-oriented programs, including the Caribbean Basin Initiative, the Initiative for Central America, and the African Food Systems Initiative. Although the number of ongoing Peace Corps volunteers fell for the first time in 1982, funding was increased by the middle of the decade. 

In 1985, the first Peace Corps Fellows Program was established at Teachers College/Columbia University to recruit, prepare and place returned volunteers as teachers in New York City schools. Nineteen eighty-six saw the agency celebrating its 25th anniversary. Five thousand volunteers gathered at the Washington Mall to take part in a celebration. In 1988, 25 years after President John F. Kennedy’s death, the Kennedy Library held a special Peace Corps remembrance. In 1989, Director Paul D. Coverdell announced the establishment of World Wise Schools, a new program to help students in America’s schools correspond with volunteers serving overseas. More than 550 schools were participating in this program by the end of the decade.

The 1990s saw further changes in the Peace Corps that reflected a changing world. In 1992, the first group of volunteers traveled to the former Soviet Union to work in small business enterprise projects in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Carol Bellamy became the first returned volunteer to be confirmed by the Senate as director of the Peace Corps in 1993. Volunteers were sent to China for the first time to work as English teachers. 

In 1995, Director Mark D. Gearan launched Crisis Corps, which allowed returned volunteers to provide short-term assistance during natural disasters and humanitarian crises. The Peace Corps hosted the first Conference on International Volunteerism in 1996, and in September of that year, the Loret Miller Ruppe Memorial Lecture Series was established for distinguished people to speak about issues related to the Peace Corps’ mission of international peace and public service. Volunteers left to serve in South Africa and Jordan for the first time in 1997, and Bangladesh and Mozambique in 1998.

In 1998, Crisis Corps volunteers were sent to serve in Guinea, Bolivia, Paraguay, Papua New Guinea, and other countries. In March of that year, six returned Peace Corps volunteers who had served in Congress, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala and former Peace Corps Director Paul D. Coverell, testified before the House Committee on International Relationship in support of President Bill Clinton’s initiative to expand the Peace Corps to 10,000 volunteers by 2000.

In June 2000, Director Mark Schneider announced that all 2,400 Peace Corps volunteers serving in 25 African countries would be trained as HIV/AIDS educators, focusing on prevention and care. The year 2003 saw the agency’s new director, Gaddi H. Vasquez, send volunteers to Mexico for the first time. When President George W. Bush signed the U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act in May of 2003, the Peace Corps committed an additional 1,000 volunteers to fight HIV and AIDS.

The first decade of the new millennium also saw new recruitment campaigns targeted to community colleges and their graduates. In 2004, the Peace Corps and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations signed an agreement to improve food security and the conditions of rural people around the world. Following the Asian tsunami in December 2004, and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the Crisis Corps were activated for the first time in the history of the Peace Corps. Their work aided the Federal Emergency Management Agency to bring needed supplies and services; it was the first time that Peace Corps volunteers were deployed domestically. After these disasters, Peace Corps volunteer numbers reached a 30-year high. Currently, 8,655 Americans serve in the Peace Corps.

Since passage of the Peace Corps Act in 1961, more than 200,000 volunteers have served in 139 host countries on issues ranging from environmental preservation to the establishment of information technology networks and AIDS education.

As the Peace Corps celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011, it has weathered scrutiny and criticism for its failure to protect and properly respond to numerous incidents of rape and murder of its overseas volunteers, more than 1,000 of whom suffered assaults in the past decade. Data collected by the agency suggests that the number of such crimes is actually double that which has been reported. In response to congressional calls for increased oversight of the agency, President Barack Obama—on November 21, 2011—signed into law the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011, which contains a variety of measures for increased protection of volunteers. They include enhanced training for staff and volunteers, better support for volunteers who are victims of crime, and new procedures to ensure improved handling of volunteers’ concerns. 

What it Does

The Peace Corps focuses on helping to facilitate basic needs in developing countries, such as access to food, safe drinking water and adequate shelter. Over the years, it also has focused on disaster planning, teaching English, information technology and business development, and HIV/AIDS education. The program’s three main goals are to help people of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained workers; promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

The Peace Corps works in about 70 countries around the world. Peace Corps volunteers work with governments, schools, non-profit organizations, non-government organizations, and entrepreneurs in the areas of education, health, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment.

Peace Corps’ presence in six countries is currently being phased out: In FY 2012, the Peace Corps will close programs in Kazakhstan, Antigua, and St. Kitts, and in FY 2013 the agency plans to close programs in Romania, Bulgaria, and Suriname. In 2012 it will re-launch programs in Tunisia and Nepal.

The Peace Corps works by first announcing its availability to foreign governments. These governments then determine areas in which the organization can be involved. The organization then matches the requested assignments to its pool of applicants and sends those volunteers with the appropriate skills to the countries that first made the requests.

There are currently 8,655 volunteers in the Peace Corps. Of these, 60% are female and 40% are male; 93% are single; 19% are classified as minorities; the average age is 28 years old; and 90% have at least an undergraduate degree,

In 2012, the Peace Corps instituted the initial phase of its new electronic volunteer application system, Database of Volunteer Experience (DOVE), designed to streamline the application process. The second phase, which will integrate business processes for volunteer medical screenings, will commence in FY 2013.

Where Does the Money Go?

The Peace Corps spent $763,425,923 on 7,128 contractor transactions this decade.  According to, the Peace Corps paid for a variety of services in support of its programs, from research and development ($240,506,008 ) and “miscellaneous items” ($232,717,781 ) to personal service contracts ($52,263,812 ), management support ($41,235,190), and automated information system design ($33,591,961).

The top five contractors are as follows:

1. Miscellaneous Foreign Contractors                                                $241,436,387

2. Unidentified Contractor                                                                  $184,661,953

3. Northrop Grumman Corporation                                                     $54,684,963

4. Affiliated Computer Services Inc.                                                    $18,916,213

5. Seven Corners Inc.                                                                            $18,738,931 

Although normally known for its services rendered to the federal government’s aerospace, defense, and security agencies, Northrop Grumman supplied several invoices labeled “miscellaneous items” for the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps’ second largest identified contractor, Affiliated Computer Services (owned by Xerox Corporation), designs and implements business process outsourcing and information technology services. 

Data on the Peace Corps

Peace Corps Fast Facts 
 Date established: March 1, 1961
Americans who have served since 1961: Nearly 220,000
 Host countries served since 1961 140
 Current # countries served 64
 Gender of current Peace Corps63% female, 37% male 
 Marital status of current Peace Corps94% single, 6% married 
 Average age 28
 % Volunteers over age 50 7%
 Where volunteers serve 45% Africa
23% Latin America
10% Eastern Europe/Central Asia
12% Asia
4% The Caribbean
3% Middle East/North Africa
3% Pacific Islands
 What volunteers do 38% education
24% health
12% environment
9% Community Economic Development
9% Youth in Development
5% agriculture
3% Peace Corps Response

  • Peace Corps website